Television news has always been about garnering the ratings. That’s what news directors and GMs liked. Now, it’s not only about sales revenue and the Nielsen numbers. Today there’s a definite realignment with social media. At the same time, there’s also evidence of “dumbing down” the broadcasts.
If you’re up early on the weekend, for example, you may have noticed a different look on WCBS-TV.
With Cindy Hsu, a solid pro, moved to weekend nights, Channel 2 is opting for style at the desk.
Teaming anchor Andrea Grymes (above left) and recent hire Diane Macedo (above right) has the feel of girls “playing TV.”
Thankfully, the initial giggles and smiles have eased. That isn’t the type of chemistry essential in New York. Altoona, maybe, but not NYC.
Grymes is a decent enough reporter, but lacks in the substance department, especially when placed behind the desk. As for Macedo, her stock is apparently rising with management as an occasional fill-in anchor at other times.
Rolland Smith logged nearly 40 years in local news, including many in New York a generation ago at the aforementioned WCBS. He says change is not always for the better.
“I do think the news anchors are getting younger and in some cases too young. Many are inexperienced for the positions they hold and are not students of history,” Smith tells Tuned In. “By definition, youth lacks the experience of history, but many young anchors lack the knowledge of contemporary history and are sometimes faulty in their reporting that requires context to understand an event.”
Another market veteran with decades of news experience, who is still on the air in New York, is not happy with the path local news is traveling.
“People respect experience and gravitas and they are turned off by those who don’t have it and are just reading the news,” the insider says.
Add to that, the main demographic awake for early weekend broadcasts is the older audience, makes it harder for twenty-something anchors to connect with them.
“When you don’t serve the audience of older New Yorkers your ratings go down,” the insider contends. “That’s why PIX11 of late has had so much trouble garnering an audience.”
The industry insider says the younger demo, which WPIX covets, is too busy tweeting to bother with watching a traditional newscast.
That might explain why anchors Tamsen Fadal and Scott Stanford have such a high profile on Twitter. Some anchors make it part of their regular routine to tweet during the broadcast, perhaps adding photos from the studio. Last week, Fadal was caught typing on her phone while Stanford finished his sports report.
“It’s so bad, so unprofessional,” the insider says. “You know what that says to the viewer? You’re not very important–my texting is.”
Ironically, Fadal is running GM Rich Graziano‘s Twitter and Facebook pages, Tuned In has learned.
Of course, many news divisions are attempting to be more savvy with social media. There are numerous ways stations are connecting with the public. Encouraging photos during a major weather situation is a great example of bringing together viewers as one community.
WNYW/Channel 5 has taken it to new low. It’s closing segment “Facebook Question of the Day” is some of the most awkward TV you’ll find. Do we really need to hear Russ Salzberg say, “There’s time to sleep and there’s time for other stuff?”
Recently, the local Fox anchors sought answers to such important news of the day like–what is your favorite sleeping position? And what’s your best flirting technique?
Smith, who started at Channel 2 in 1970, has strong thoughts on how social media and local news converge.
“I watch with disdain the constant reference on the air by local anchors to ‘follow me’ on Twitter or Facebook. I was trained not to waste the precious seconds that could be used for additional information on an important story,” Smith says. “Why waste collective minutes on frivolous chatter that does nothing to advance a story or inform the viewer?”
While many understand the need to generate and retain a younger audience by posing “What do you think?” questions, the insider cautions, “When you go in that direction, you cede control of the information to those who were watching.”
Thus, the news product becomes watered down.
“That’s why we have such a large illiterate news population now,” the insider worries. “They’re not being told what’s important – they’re being entertained.”
Clearly, station management is concerned with the metric of likes, beyond the math of rating meters. And on-air talent will take to Twitter and Facebook as effective tools to enhance story ideas, or to promote their pieces.
The majority of those on-air folks not only used Facebook to promote their pieces, but also feature behind the scenes and private photos to their many followers. The problem is when those pictures are deemed inappropriate.
“You know that’s actually disgraceful,” the insider says. “It belittles her journalistic credentials – whatever they might be – and reduces her in the eyes of the viewers as just a pretty girl model frolicking on the beach.
“Could you even imagine Rolland Smith, Bill Beutel or Jim Jensen posting a photograph of themselves in their bathing suits at the beach or carousing at a party?” the insider intimates. “Journalists should be respected and not just liked.”
Incidentally, WPIX producer Amy Waldman has a bikini shot as her Twitter avatar.
Bikini shots aside, Smith finds two main differences since his time in anchor chair: namely the rise of women as anchors and reporters and engaging viewers in instant interactively.
“Social media, at that time, was a post-it note on a colleague’s desk or a phone call,” Smith jokes.
Today, many of the social media “friends” and “followers” are simply fans looking to help anchors and reporters establish a virtual popularity. Twitter handles are now a regular part of the on-screen graphic.
“Walter Cronkite didn’t get to be America’s most trusted person by promoting himself on Twitter or Facebook,” Smith adds.
Smith, who regularly blogs, says social media has its place, even as a gathering tool, but not necessarily on the 11 o’clock news.
“Using them on newscasts to self-promote, gain followers, encourage comment, or raise ratings, is a waste of time and detrimental to the journalistic profession.”